The South face of All Saints church. The tower is 15th Century with geometric style windows, but the rest of the church was built later in the Perpendicular style. In the middle is the South Transept.
All Saints, Hillesden, is a Perpendicular church. This style is easy to recognise; the windows have strong vertical stone bars, or mullions, that mean the windows can be made very large to let in the maximum amount of light.
Makers of stained glass could use the great areas of glass to their best advantage, and a church like Hillesden, built in this style, is a light and airy place.
Hillesden’s walls are thin compared to older churches, but buttresses between the windows makes the walls stiff and strong. The thin walls allow in yet more light. Because the windows are not deep set, sunlight can come in from almost any angle.
Much use is made of vertical lines in this style, as you can see from the pillars in the church.
All these large windows make the church airy and bright. This is the nave, the south aisle and South Transept, and the original rood screen. Beyond it is the chancel, and in it but barely visible here, are rows of carved angels at the top of the side walls. I have a clearer shot of the chancel here, in my previous post.
The tower’s windows are in the much earlier Geometric style, but the West door at the base has a similar four centred arch to many of the Perpendicular windows in the main body of the church; wide and shallow. Perhaps it was altered when the church was rebuilt.
The church had been appropriated to Notley Abbey, near Thame since the twelth Century. That is, some of the tithes and endowments given to All Saints (and seven other local churches) for maintenance and ceremonies were diverted to the abbey.
In return the abbey should have maintained those churches, but their neglect of them was “Sadly conspicuous” in reports written both in 1493 and 1519; it was an ongoing problem.
In the 1493 report, it said that the chancel at Hillesden was in such a bad state that the chaplain could not celebrate Mass at the High Altar. The rest of the church was also in very poor repair.
It’s often said that the Abbot at Notley had his monks rebuild the church, but the Victorian architect Sir George Scott, who restored the church in 1875, disagreed; he had seen the records and said they described quick repairs that had only taken a short time to do.
Whoever eventually rebuilt the church to its present form, they did a fine job; not many churches are Grade 1 Listed. Perhaps after trying to repair the old church, it was obvious that it had gone far past the point where it was worth saving, and in the end the new church was indeed erected by Notley Abbey.
Exactly when this was, we can’t say, but the windows were filled by 16th century stained glass, and it must have been a glorious sight.
Much of the stained glass was destroyed some time later, though still (probably) in the 16th Century. Cromwell’s troops get the blame, but this vandalism could have been done during the Reformation.
The North door from the inside. The hinges on each side of the frame show that a double door was originally fitted. Just above the third horizontal brace from the top you can see a hole from a musket ball.
It’s pretty certain that Cromwell’s men can be blamed for the musket ball and pistol ball holes in the North door, as Hillesden was the scene of heavy fighting during the Civil War.
It’s said that the door was originally at the manor house which is where it gained the damage. Perhaps, but it’s obvious from the hinges that once there were double doors there. not the single one that we see today.
The Church of All Saints at Hillesden is a beautiful building. Set on a hill top with only a few houses nearby, it deserves its title of The Cathedral in the Fields. Why don’t you visit it and see for yourself?
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